The Case for Grinding Your Coffee Beans
To grind or not to grind?
By Dominic Tan
If coffee’s your thing, you’ve likely experienced that fuzzy feeling the first time you sipped one that hit all the right notes – catapulting your caffeine journey from casual drinker, to artisanal seeker, to coffee connoisseur. For those who want to go the extra mile, honing the DIY barista in you is the next step, starting with two choices: using pre-ground beans or grinding it yourself.
To Grind or Not to Grind?
Except there is no choice if freshness is what you want. Yes, making coffee from pre-ground beans is quick. Grounded beans, brewed in a pot, and out comes coffee.
Once you open the pre-ground coffee bag, the countdown begins. Oxygen from the air rushes into the coffee grounds, beginning to degrade them, made worse by its fineness.
The alternative? Grinding your beans right before you brew it. This will elevate your coffee for the daily grind (pun intended). For that, you'll have two choices to consider: blade vs burr grinders.
As its name suggests, blade grinders slice your beans in a container. The longer the beans are in, the finer the grind. Thing is, the results are less-than-ideal. Not all beans are equally exposed to the blades, so there'll be an uneven mix of coarse and fine particles. Meanwhile, the heat from the motors can destroy the coffee flavour if the beans are left in the grinder for too long.
Still, blade grinders get the job done most of the time. What you gain in freshness compared to pre-ground beans, you lose in consistency and flavour. It’s also inexpensive enough for those new to the hobby.
For a more uniform result, and consistency, burrs are undeniably the superior option. Through a grinding funnel that gets smaller down the burr, the beans are gradually crushed to the desired fineness. This fineness is adjusted by varying the distance between the burrs, which depends on the grind size of your coffee brewer. If the richer flavour of the burr is right up your alley, the next thing to decide is whether you want an electric or manual coffee grinder.
Electric vs Manual Grinders
The electric vs manual debate is a nuanced one. Unlike one-size-fits-all baseball caps, there’s no one-grinder-fits-all-brew solution as it depends on your needs.
The biggest draw of electric grinders is the effort and time you save compared to its manual counterpart – especially relevant if you brew coffee for the family or require fine grounds.
In terms of settings, electric grinders are built to churn out a specific range of fineness. For instance, Espresso grinders, with their micro-adjustment knobs, are highly recommended for fine ground brews. On the other hand, with a bit of trial and error, manual grinders can achieve a greater range of fineness and control. Since Espresso shots should be brewed ASAP, the fast action of electric grinders prevents the unnecessary escape of aromas compared to time-consuming manual grinders. However, for coarser grounds where less grind time is needed, there’s a certain charm in raw mechanical cranking.
If the sound of manual grinders makes you sweat, fret not! Know that it’s easier than it looks. Simply follow the steps below:
- Remove the top nut
- Pour the desired amount of beans in
- Close the top nut
- Adjust grind setting by turning the burr. Finer grind = turn ring clockwise. Coarser grind = turn ring anticlockwise.
- Put back the locking ring, attach the lever, and start turning!
Something extra to consider is portability. Powered by your movements and with less fragile parts, compact manual grinders are ideal for travelers, campers, when an electrical power source is not guaranteed.
Pre-ground < Blade < Burr, while the decision to go electric versus manual is subjective. There’re many ways to brew a cup of coffee, and experimenting is part of the fun of being a barista!.